Boardroom Distillery: a new way to get your vegetables
If there is one important fact to know about alcohol -other than it gives your brain the night off- is that it can be made from any source that contains natural sugars, as long as those sugars are made available for yeast to eat. Grains, fruit and sugarcane are the most common bases for spirits. There is a friendly man in the hinterlands northwest of Philadelphia who is busy adding vegetables to that list.
Meet Morat Mamedov, co-owner and distiller at Boardroom Distillery in Landsale, PA. Boardroom makes the clear spirits you typically see of newer distilleries (Boardroom has been open just over a year). In addition to vodka, gin and rum, Boardroom is unique in offering spirits distilled from carrots and beets. You may notice that these are two vegetables that have relatively high sugar content. I'm sure Morat has chosen beets and carrots to make a tricky feat slightly less daunting.
An irony not lost me is that while Morat had to consult several seasoned distillers in cracking the code on beet and carrot fermentation, Boardroom's vodka and gin start their lives as neutral grain spirits distilled elsewhere and shipped in at 190 proof. Morat and company will then it run it once through their hybrid pot/column still before proofing it down, charcoal filtering, adding any flavorings and bottling.
I try the unflavored vodka first. Before my first sip, Morat informs me this vodka recently won a gold medal in the "best of category" designation at the American Distiller's Institute conference this past April. If one judges a vodka by how little taste or smell it has, as it should have minimal of each by definition, Boardroom's is pretty minimal on both fronts. The other criteria for vodka is how smooth, or little burn, it is. Boardroom does a fine job there as well.
Boardroom has three flavors of vodka: cranberry, ginger and citrus. The latter is a mix of three zests: lemon, orange and lime. The citrus and cranberry are 60 proof, while the ginger is 80.
The cranberry and citrus vodkas have an underlying bitterness to them - not wholly unusual for their respective fruits. The cranberry vodka leans in a more herbal direction. The citrus vodka is light and refreshing, though I would recommend mixing it with something sweet if you're looking to get away from the rind-flavor. The ginger vodka does a great job in tasting how it's supposed to, with the flavor pleasant and not overwhelming.
There isn't much to remark upon for the 80-proof gin. It has the the typical juniper nose and a palate marrying pine with light notes of citrus, pepper and bitter herbs, distinctive of the New American style.
Boardroom's rum is 80 proof and is made from a cane neutral spirit. The nose is slightly grassy with a very clean palate of a little sweetness.
Now we get to the spirits that, for better or worse, will earn Boardroom its notoriety. Morat purposely saves this spirits for last because they have an overpowering taste. The carrot spirit is 92 proof and the one from beets is 90 proof. They are each distilled twice through the 120-gallon pot still. The carrot spirit has a nose of white grape and mineral. The palate has a heady burn up front, before mellowing into sweet wood notes. The beet spirit has a nose of earth and, more accurately, loose dirt, like potting soil. The palate doesn't get any less dirty. It reminds me of a bitter salad dressing.
Morat tells me of plans to come out with other lines of vegetable-based spirits. I can't know what expression crosses my face, but I hope it's not what I'm thinking. I understand making a spirit out of a particular vegetable to see if it can be done. But once you have, and it tastes like the most unappealing part of a plant, only an extreme contrarian (or fanatic) would continue to distill from that one vegetable base, let alone others. The positive side is if you're looking for a new way to appreciate the flavor of a beet or carrot on its own, try Boardroom's version first. It will have you luxuriating in the safety of the produce aisle, blessedly far from any still.